So yeah, I made a comic about trying to parse flirting when you’re autistic! I’ve excerpted two panels here. You can find the whole comic in the February 2024 issue of OUT FRONT Magazine (I’m on page 6).
This is a complex topic that was difficult to distill into a half-page comic, for sure. An unintentional meta-joke is that this comic kinda sorta metastasized into an infographic with flow charts, but really, that’s what my brain is doing when I’m trying to figure out: Flirt or Not Flirt?
It’s not that I can’t see that a specific behavior COULD be interpreted as flirting, it’s that I can come up with five other equally plausible explanations for that behavior that are all Not Flirt. Autistic people are already punished regularly for unintentional social misfires. Flirting makes things even more complicated, because even allistic people mask their behavior when it comes to flirting, so the autist is given even less concrete information to work with. Assuming someone was flirting when they weren’t is a great way to get yourself ostracized, so in general, most autistic folks I know err on the side of assuming Not Flirt in most situations.
I will add that, for queer and trans autistic folks there’s an added layer of uncertainty to the proceedings. For better or worse, cishet people have a script that says Woman Coyly Flirts, Man Approaches. There are a lot of things awry with that model, but it DOES offer a framework that doesn’t really exist for queer people, so that’s even more guesswork to wade through.
None of this is to say that no autistic people anywhere grok flirting, or are incapable of flirting themselves. YMMV! I merely speak to my own experience, and that which I have heard expressed by autistic friends.